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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White

The Lost Traveller (1950)

by Antonia White

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the lost traveller

This was my final read for August, and I must say I absolutely loved it. Antonia White is mainly known for her quartet of novels which began with Frost In May, which was the first ever Virago Modern Classic. I re-read Frost in May about two years ago and although I enjoyed it – there was something a little disturbing about the story of the breaking of a young girl’s spirit. I have now collected each of the remaining three books of the quartet together – and I am so glad that I have.

In The Lost Traveller (which is apparently very autobiographical) Nada Grey of Frost in May has become Clara Batchelor – and The Five Wounds School has become Mount Hilary, but they are essentially the same place.
As the novel opens in 1914 Clara is fourteen, her paternal grandfather has just died, and with her father Claude grief stricken at the demise of the parent he had undeservedly put on a pedestal – Clara is called home from her Catholic boarding school for the funeral. Clara’s mother Isabel is a strange cool creature, irritated by her mother-in-law – she adores her daughter – but feels Clara’s reserve toward her very keenly. Clara both adores and fears her father; terrified of his disapproval she does what she can to please him.

At the heart of this novel is the complex relationship between Clara and her parents. Clara is an only child of Catholic converts, Claude a respected school master, and Isabel a fragile beauty whose ancestors were quite grand. Claude is ambitious for Clara – with a scholarship to Cambridge in mind for her, Isabel is less keen on the idea of a bluestocking daughter, wanting her only to be beautiful. Just as he worshiped his father, Claude worships his wife; Clara resents her, hating the way she speaks to Claude and her grandmother. The relationship between Clara and her father verges on the ever so slightly disturbing, Clara is a daddy’s girl, and yet the relationship with her father doesn’t always bring her happiness, at one moment revelling in a shared confidence or appreciation of a piece of music – the next made miserable by one of Claude’s dreadful rages.

“Oh thank you, Daddy. You do look magnificent,” she said, pinning on her flowers and gazing at him with admiration. Evening clothes suited him; they set off his fairness and made him seem taller. Never, she thought, had she seen him looking so young and handsome.
She giggled with sheer happiness.
“I never thought I’d go to the opera with you in your opera hat, I do feel grand.”
He offered his arm.
“Your carriage is waiting.”
To her amazement, it was no mere taxi but a hired car with a chauffeur in livery. A hired car was the very greatest of luxuries associated only with the most solemn family feasts such as her parents’ wedding anniversary. Never before had he ordered one just for Clara.
“Daddy you are spoiling me,” She said, leaning back on the thick grey cushions.”

Clara is irritated and even repelled by her mother’s affection. Isabel knows only too well the realities of a Catholic marriage, she wants her daughter to marry, but insists she must marry for love, in her terrible ignorance of the facts of life; Clara is bound to misunderstand her mother. Isabel is a wonderfully drawn character, often unhappy and jealous of Clara and Claude’s relationship. The one thing that Clara and Isabel seem to agree on is Pagets Fold, the Sussex country home of Claude’s family, a small house with 40 acres, where his two spinster aunts live in a sort of caretaker role. Clara and Isabel love the aunts and for Clara, Pagets Fold represents an idyll to which she looks forward to returning each summer holiday.

Shortly after the death of her grandfather, Clara is forced to leave her Catholic boarding school – that has become a blissful haven from home life – as her father can no longer pay the fees following a mysterious illness of her mother’s which resulted in high doctor’s fees. Clara will spend her final year of schooling and subsequent sixth form at a protestant day school. Saddened at the loss of her friend Nicole de Savigny – who Clara instinctively knows she will be unable to keep up with – their social orbits being of an entirely different kind, Clara fears her removal from the place where she feels safe. However at her new school Clara makes two particularly good friends, who serve to help Clara develop at little bit of spirit and creative flare. No longer quite as buttoned up, Clara starts to blossom, and is no longer quite sure that Cambridge is for her. On the brink of womanhood, and in the middle of the Great War – Clara leaves her family to spend six months as a governess in a good Catholic home, where she will be treated as one of the family and able to re-connect with her Catholic upbringing. Here Clara is supremely happy, reverting almost to childhood in her antics with her young charge. However when the first really tragic event of her young life comes along, Clara is really tested. Clara needs to work out how to heal herself and move forward. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Sep 2, 2013 |
The Lost Traveller is a continuation of the story that was told in Frost in May; although the names have changed (“Nanda” is now “Clara”), the characters are essentially the same. When her grandfather passes away, Clara is sent home from her convent school. The reader watches her grow into adulthood, strongly influenced by her Catholic parents, while the first world war rages. The Lost Traveller is the first of a proper trilogy that continues with The Sugar House and Beyond the Glass.

Clara has a rather intense relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and a lot of the novel focuses on how she struggles with reconciling her childhood with her future, as uncertain as it is. As with Antonia White’s other novels, the theme and story are based on personal experience; White was heavily influenced by her Catholic upbringing, as is Clara. There’s more fiction in The Lost Traveller than there is in Frost in May (Clara’s relationship with Charles is an example). Therefore, the characters are much more fully developed and seen more objectively from the reader’s point of view. When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be yet another coming of age story, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s so much depth to the story and its implications. ( )
  Kasthu | Oct 14, 2012 |
The Lost Traveller opens in 1914, as Clara Batchelor returns home from her convent boarding school to attend her grandfather's funeral. At 15, Clara has been a student at Mount Hilary for 6 years, ever since her father's decision to convert to Catholicism. Clara is a typical 15-year-old girl:
For the last few months it had been misery for her to be alone with either of her parents. It was all the worse because she had no idea why this was and Clara was always frightened by anything she could not explain. There seemed to be a new creature growing up inside her, something still unformed and skinless that could not bear to be exposed to the light. The thoughts that nourished this inner self were too sacred and silly to be told to her father or mother and the myseterious creature was insistent, resenting interruptions and demanding constant attention. (p. 35)

This book is an autobiographical novel and sequel to Frost in May, which chronicles a young girl's early years in convent education. This first book is of the genre known as "school stories": books about the horrors of boarding school. The Lost Traveller is a more sophisticated coming-of-age novel. The characters are much more fully developed than those in Frost in May, and the reader gains considerably more insight into Clara's parents. Her father dotes on his daughter, although she is constantly in fear of disappointing him. Clara's mother locked in an unfulfilling marriage and sees her daughter as somewhat of a rival. Her father's grief over his own father's death is palpable, but her self-centered mother distances herself from her husband's loss and offers little emotional support.

Not long after the funeral, Clara learned this would be her final term at Mount Hilary, and that she would then attend St. Mark's School, an Anglican day school where her father is also a teacher. At Mount Hilary, Clara often felt out of place with the wealthy student body. At St. Mark's she found herself in a less restricted environment among her own socio-economic class, but this time her Catholicism made her the "odd one out." Over the next two years Clara oscillated between being a sensible academic high achiever and a frivolous, self-centered schoolgirl. Clara's secondary education came to an end with the first World War as a backdrop. She was too young to serve as a nurse, and briefly entertained thoughts of a Cambridge scholarship. Instead she accepted a short-term position as a governess. While the war had little direct impact on Clara, her father faced further loss as favorite pupils were killed in action. Then suddenly Clara was faced with a significant event which shook her to her core, and forced her to think through what was important in life.

This novel was much deeper and more enjoyable than I'd expected, and whetted my appetite for the remaining books in this series: The Sugar House and Beyond the Glass. ( )
5 vote lauralkeet | Dec 31, 2008 |
2661 The Lost Traveller A Novel by Antonia White (read 9 Oct 1994) This is the first of a trilogy (The Sugar House is the second in the trilogy aqnd Beyond the Glass is the third), of which I regret I read the third volume first! This book ends on a happy note, but since I read the third volume its happiness was spoiled for me. I found this volume drug in inconsequentials at times, but all in all its Catholic atmosphere pleased and its ending was satisfactory. ( )
  Schmerguls | Mar 31, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Antonia Whiteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alvarez, José ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofstra, J. W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McEvoy, Arthur AmbroseCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neumann, StefanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pérez, AngelaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'In the sojourning of this carnal life each man carries his own heart and every heart is closed to every other heart.'

St Augustine
To the memory of Hugh Kingsmill
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On every ordinary weekday in term-time, Claude Batchelor stepped out of his house at exactly twenty minutes past nine, slammed the door and set off at a furious pace in the direction of St Mark's School.
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"When Clara returns home from the convent of her childhood to begin life at a local girls' school, she is at a loss: although she has comparative freedom, she misses the discipline the nuns imposed and worries about keeping her faith in a secular world. Against the background of the First World War, Clara experiences the confusions of adolescence - its promise, its threat of change. She longs for love, yet fears it, and wonders what the future will hold. Then tragedy strikes and her childhood haltingly comes to an end as she realizes that neither parents nor her faith can help her."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860680959, Paperback)

A brilliant portrait of a young girl's coming of age, The Lost Traveller tells of Clara, the beloved daughter of a devoted though authoritarian father and an imperious mother. In this devout Catholic family, father and daughter conduct an intense relationship that seems at odds with their faith and with the need for Clara to become a woman. Set against the backdrop of the First World War, Clara experiences the vagaries of adolescence and, faced with the first tragedy of her adult life, she realizes that neither parents nor faith can protect her from change.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:34 -0400)

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